John Anderson

Anderson’s name is probably most associated with daylight saving time, which Newfoundland, the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt it.

John Anderson, businessman and politician; b. 27 Jan. 1855 in Saltcoats, Scotland, son of John Anderson and Agnes King; m. first 18 Nov. 1884 Amelia Murray in St John’s, and they had two sons; m. there secondly 25 Dec. 1917 Clymena (Clymenia, Minnie) Kaye, widow of Dr John Edgar March, of Saint John; d. 8 Nov. 1930 in St John’s.

Educated at the Saltcoats Academy, John Anderson came to St John’s on 3 April 1875 to work as a draper’s assistant with the firm of James Baird*. Nine years later he left to form a dry goods partnership with Andrew K. Lumsden under the name Anderson and Lumsden. Anderson was the senior partner in the firm, which was dissolved in 1887 when he went into business on his own under the name John Anderson. The firm popularly styled itself the “Great Provider” or the “Universal Provider,” and by mid 1916 it was “Anderson’s – The House of Quality.” A general importing business, it dealt in dry goods, millinery, boots and shoes, and clothing. In 1917 the firm’s credit was rated good, and it was judged to have a pecuniary strength of between $35,000 and $50,000.

During the early 1900s Anderson had been active in political life at both the national and the municipal levels. In 1900 he won election to the House of Assembly as a member of Robert Bond’s Liberal party, which went on to form the government. He was one of three mhas – all Liberals – returned for St John’s West, a district controlled by the populist politician Edward Patrick Morris*. Anderson did not seek re-election in 1904 but in 1905 he accepted an appointment to the Legislative Council, of which he remained a member until his death.

In 1902 Anderson had considered seeking the mayoralty of St John’s but instead he stood for election as a councillor. He was successful, and during his term the city reorganized its finances and initiated improved waterworks. In the next civic election, in 1906, Anderson ran for mayor, emphasizing conservative measures to preserve the financial health of the municipality, but he finished a distant third to the winner, Michael Patrick Gibbs*, who had strong labour support. Eight years later he accepted a government appointment to the municipal commission that administered the city from 1914 to 1916 under chairman William Gilbert Gosling.

Anderson’s name is probably most associated with daylight saving time, which Newfoundland, the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt it, has enjoyed since 1917. Anderson had first become fascinated with this idea in 1907 and later that year he met the London builder William Willett, who had been promoting it in England. Anderson would continue a correspondence with Willett until the latter’s death in 1915. In 1910 the Legislative Council passed a daylight saving bill, but the assembly refused to accept it because of public misunderstanding about how the change would affect daily routines. Success came in 1917 following the recent adoption of daylight saving time in Great Britain, several European countries, and Australia. Anderson wanted the change to give residents an extra hour of daylight for recreational purposes, but it also enabled Newfoundlanders to limit their use of artificial light and coal during wartime conditions. The legislation provided for an extra hour of daylight each day between the months of June and September.

During World War I Anderson was a member of the Patriotic Association of Newfoundland, a government-appointed body under the chairmanship of Governor Sir Walter Edward Davidson which had responsibility for administering the colony’s war effort. He was also a strong publicist for the Newfoundland Regiment; he visited members of the unit in Britain and, to boost morale at home, wrote regularly to the local press concerning the soldiers’ living conditions there. His name was associated as well with “Anderson’s Houses,” a range of residences constructed in 1920 on Merrymeeting Road in St John’s by the Dominion Co-operative Building Association Limited. Anderson was the managing director and secretary of this company, which he had formed with the help of local business, labour, churches, and government to provide needed housing for the working poor and returning war veterans. Only 30 of the promised 600 houses were erected because the company experienced difficulty in raising sufficient capital. By 1924 some houses had been sold outright, others sold on an instalment basis, and the remainder left unsold.

Anderson was active in the St Andrew’s Society and other organizations associated with the small but influential Presbyterian congregation in St John’s. According to journalist Albert Benjamin Perlin*, he was “not a man to give in easily” to controversy and possessed “considerable oratorical gifts.” He presented “a formidable appearance, big physically, with an arresting face whose most prominent features were his piercing eyes and aquiline nose that contributed to an imperious look.”

— Text by Melvin Baker, “ANDERSON, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 2, 2015. For this article's bibliography and other related information, visit Dictionary of Canadian Biography online.